America is always shocked, bewildered and then angry when a child kills his/her parents. The media goes into a frenzy every time a shooter takes multiple lives. We all wonder why these things happen? Why do these people escape the notice of neighbors, teachers, co-workers and even medical professionals? The truth is they don't.
The American public has been programmed to seek "the magic pill", through suggestive advertising and the focus of the medical community on symptoms instead of life changing cures. We are told that if you aren't quite "feeling like yourself", there is a pill that will make it better. Our friends talk about their medications, it comes up in workplace conversation and drug companies are allowed to advertise, promote and challenge you to ask your doctor about the benefits of their product. As a result of these fabrications and misconceptions Americans have become addicted, if not to the pharmaceutical itself, to the idea that we should always feel at our best.
The majority of addicts are not in prisons but in our communities because the drugs that they are dependent on are legal, publicly accepted and widely prescribed. Some of these drugs may also be the cause of the walking time bombs that go off in the form of mass shootings and other violent disasters involving children, teens and adults in our cities. The travesty in all of this is that the medical community. drug companies and the FDA are completely aware of these potential dangers and have done little to address the problem. While we hear about the teen who was diagnosed as having mental problems, we are not told of the drug cocktail prescribed to try and help him to "act normally". We think that the mentally ill person who just committed that terrible crime was not under medical supervision and he/she committed the terrible act because they were mentally ill. We think that the mentally ill person was probably "too far gone" and needed to be institutionalized. We hear about a person who committed suicide and we shake our heads thinking that they lost the battle with their illness.
Let us deal with the term mentally ill first. This is from the website of "Mental Health America"
What is mental illness?
A mental illness is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines.
There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness. Some of the more common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal.
Mental health problems may be related to excessive stress due to a particular situation or series of events. As with cancer, diabetes and heart disease, mental illnesses are often physical as well as emotional and psychological. Mental illnesses may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination of these. With proper care and treatment many individuals learn to cope or recover from a mental illness or emotional disorder.
According to the first sentences of the description we could all be classified mentally ill because of the life events we have endured. Lost your job of 10 years and can't find comparable employment? Is this leaving you anxious, depressed, hopeless? Do you spend most of the day staring out the window instead of doing your chores, interacting with your family or taking a walk? You are mentally ill. Yet these life events are something every single one of us experience (or something like it) in the course of our years on earth. There are wonderful professionals who help by listening, encouraging and motivating individuals. They help develop action plans, changes in habits and encourage and applaud every little victory. More often than necessary professionals prescribe drugs to help these individuals get through those little bumps in life....just until they can get back on track. The same holds true with our children. Ask any parent who has dealt with a teenager and they will tell you that those years are more difficult that the terrible two's and three's. Teenage kids have mood swings, they rebel, they talk back, they argue, they ignore their responsibilities in favor of hanging with friends and they make questionable decisions. There are professionals that help parents deal with this time of raging hormones by prescribing medications "just until they get through this phase".
The most dangerous of all this information is that the drugs often prescribed for these life events have lethal and debilitating side effects and consequences. Even more important they have been prescribed for our children without clinical trials, without medical research and we have paid a very high price. The death of our children.
Most of America is aware of the Columbine Shooting that happened in Colorado in 1999. Many were horrified by the scenes unfolding on their television sets as police surrounded a school that was under attack by shooters. America was equally shocked by the revelation that the shooters were boys and members of that school. What was never widely publicized was the connection between that day and prescription drugs.
Between 1988 when Prozac was approved and 2006, there were 46 incidents of school violence involving 48 children and adolescents. Of these, 38% were reported in media, websites or books to be taking psychiatric drugs or were withdrawing from them at the time of their shooting spree. The relationship of psychiatric drugs in the remaining incidents of violence has not been publicly disclosed or the person’s records are sealed. Frequently, antidepressants were implicated.
April: In Idaho, 15-year-old Shawn Cooper fired two shotgun rounds in his school,
narrowly missing students. He was taking a prescribed SSRI antidepressant and
April: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a shooting spree in their Columbine,
Colorado school, killing 13 and wounding 23. CCHR and others pressured to have
the Coroner re-test the teens’ blood for psychiatric drugs. The Coroner subsequently
confirmed that Harris’ blood contained a therapeutic dose of the SSRI antidepressant,
Luvox. Clinical trials showed that 4% of children taking the drug experienced mania,
a condition known to result in violent behavior. Colorado State Rep. Penn Pfiffner,
chaired a hearing on the possible connection of violent behavior and psychotropic
drugs, stating, “There is enough coincidence and enough professional opinion from
legitimate scientists to cause us to raise the issue and to ask further questions.” “If
we’re only interested in debating gun laws and metal detectors,” said Pfiffner, “then
we as legislators aren’t doing our job.”105
May: CCHR produced a White Paper Psychiatry and The Creation of Senseless Violence
detailing examples of psychiatric-drug induced crime and medical studies proving
that such drugs precipitate murderous acts. More than 10,000 copies of the report
were distributed to legislators, educators and media in the U.S.
May: Kelly Patricia O’Meara, a former Congressional staff who was writing for
Washington Times’ Insight Magazine wrote a story based on CCHR’s and her own
research, titled “Guns and Doses.” It showed the common link between high-school
shootings and psychiatric drugs.
March 1: Matthew Smith, aged 14, died of a heart attack after being prescribed Ritalin
for several years. A Michigan coroner determined that his heart showed clear signs of
the small blood vessel damage caused by stimulants, concluding that he had died from
the long-term use of Ritalin. Matthew was forced onto the drug through his school,
with the parents threatened with charges of medical and education neglect if they
refused to put him on the drug.112 Psychiatrists at the time dismissed the coroner’s
findings. [See January 5, 2006 entry on warnings the FDA eventually issued, more than
40 years after Ritalin had been on the market.]
May 25: An Australian judge blamed an SSRI for turning a peaceful, law abiding
man, David Hawkins, into a violent killer. Judge Barry O’Keefe of the New South
Wales Supreme Court said that had Mr. Hawkins not taken the antidepressant, “it is
overwhelmingly probable that Mrs. Hawkins would not have been killed….”
June: A Wyoming jury awarded $8 million to the relatives of a man, Donald Schell,
who went on a shooting rampage after taking Paxil and killed his wife, daughter,
granddaughter and himself. The jury determined that the drug was 80% responsible
for the killing spree. (excerpts from Citizens Commission on Human Rights)
You can read the full report from Citizens Commission on Human Rights on the testimonies, clinical studies, reports and hearings concerning the documented dangers of drugs like Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Ritalin and others. Not only are the drugs dangerous when the patient is taking the drug but the effects of withdrawal from the medication can be equally as dangerous. It was also finally admitted that there was no lab test available to prove a chemical imbalance in the brain causing any mental disorder. It was all a marketing hoax. (see the closing quote).
Most outrageous of all is the extremes with which drug companies, medical institutions and even our government have kept this information from being widely distributed to the public. The public has been submitted to the pain and loss from violent outbursts but has not been made aware that it's own actions (or inaction) may very well be the cause. We have and continue to give very dangerous drugs to our children. We have questioned the increase of depression, suicidal behavior, the increase of violence, the increase of obsessive behaviors such as cutting and eating disorders that have become all too familiar in our youth. The answer may well come in the form of drug treatment given to children and our own lack of connection to each other as people.
What are we too expect? We are a nation that looks for the quick fix for everything from depression to weak knees to sore muscles and a lack of energy. We don't exercise, eat right, sleep well and we don't connect with others, the very things that promote wellness in people. We don't take the time to educate, direct and listen to each other....we certainly don't have the time to do it with a teenager who is trying to figure out the world.
We need to take a good hard look at ourselves, our decisions, our lack of knowledge and our ability to be deceived by pharmaceutical companies (the modern day snake oil salesman). Then we need to ask the most difficult question: Who is ultimately responsible for Columbine, Virginia Tech and others? These kids were under the supervision of adults who trusted medical professionals. These kids were under the jurisdiction of their parents and doctors and ultimately had to take (or in some cases, refuse to take) mind altering drugs with KNOWN side effects that destroyed their lives and the lives of others. We are responsible. the adults, and they have payed the price for our ignorance with their very lives. It is time to stand against drug companies and FOR OUR CHILDREN. Then we need to figure out how we are going to correct the damage caused families, to the lives of the children who have been sentenced to dwell in cages for the rest of their lives, and to the communities who have witnessed these tragedies. We need accountability from the professionals and the drug companies who cared more about profits than our children. We allowed this to happen through our ignorance and it is time we acted responsibly to fix it. Only by repairing the harm can we truly heal and become stronger.
In 2005, the APA’s president, Stephen Sharfstein and other psychiatrists were forced to
admit there is no lab test to prove a chemical imbalance in the brain causing any “mental
disorder.” The marketing hoax was finally exposed but by then 30 million Americans
were taking the drugs. In January 2008, the New England Journal of Medicine vindicated
CCHR when a study it published revealed the effectiveness of antidepressants had
been exaggerated and that many negative studies of the drugs were never published.
In fact, the drugs are no more effective than taking placebo (dummy pill).
This week the state of Michigan Supreme Court decided, in a 4-3 decision, that the United States Supreme Court ruling heralding life without parole sentences as "cruel and unusual" does not apply retroactively in Michigan. The reason? Because they believe justice to be served, they do not believe they have the proper information to determine if they were wrong in their conviction or sentencing and they are not about to take the time and look at these cases. What's done is done and that's all there is too it.
It is also interesting to note that Attorney General Bill Shuette is running for re-election in the November, 2014 election. Coincidence? Doubtful. It is also interesting to note that Michigan elects it's Supreme Court justices, nominated by their parties, to 8 year terms. There are three (3) Michigan Supreme Court Justices who are also running for re-election. Why is this important? Because, as an incumbent, it is not politically beneficial to deal with any volatile issues or take on any large changes to existing criminal justice practices.
"We are not confident that the justice achieved by a resentencing process taking place many years after the original trial and sentencing-- many years after the victims of the homicide have become little more than historical footnotes to all but their immediate families — and presided over by a judge who can never entirely be situated like the judge who presided over the trial, can effectively replicate the justice achieved at the initial sentencing," the court's majority opinion said.
"Instead, we believe that the trial court's ability to travel back in time to assess a defendant's mental state of some 20 years earlier-- evidence of which may not even have been gathered at the time-- is limited; that the recollection of memories about aggravating and mitigating circumstances-- evidence of which may again not even have been gathered at the time-- is questionable; and that, as a result, public confidence in the integrity and accuracy of those proceedings will understandably be low."
From Michigan Live PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE. IT IS WORTH THE READ.
Resentencing for these 350 individuals SHOULD be based on their ability to be rehabilitated, on their understanding of victim and community impact caused by their crimes, on the person they will become. They HAVE that information. Most of these inmates have been in prison a long time. They have studied...or not....changed....or not.....recounted the crimes in their heads with remorse...or not. The problem is not whether or not Michigan has the information to decide if these people deserve a second chance, but that Michigan does not want to give them one.
They have chosen not to uphold the Supreme Court of the United States ruling. They have chosen not to uphold the constitution of the United States as it has been weighed and interpreted by the Supreme Court Of the U.S. In the Graham ruling and the Miller/Jackson ruling the Supreme Court ruled that Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentences were unconstitutional because it was determined to be "cruel and unusual punishment". These were cases of individuals already sentenced to JLWOP and their cases were remanded to the lower courts for resentencing. It is clear that the landmark rulings handed down from our nations high court applied to those individuals already serving life sentences. These Michigan officials chose to do it their own way. Something to keep in mind with the upcoming elections. If they do their own thing concerning the constitution of the United States in this case, it could happen again.
The Colorado Supreme Court hearings have come and gone. The advocates, the news reporters and the editors have all spoken and the facts have been laid before the judges.....and we wait for the decision. The cases presented before the court were distinct and helped to cover the gamut of the issue facing Colorado.
Each one challenged the legality of juvenile life sentences, two cases have life without the possibility of parole and one case was sentenced under the 2006 Colorado law that mandates 40 years to life. It was important that this sentence be presented before the Supreme Court because it has a lengthy mandatory minimum that does not allow for mitigating circumstances, rehabilitation or judicial discretion. Many states have already jumped this hurdle and found that a lengthy mandatory minimum does not hold up under the constitutional rulings of Miller and Graham. Interestingly enough retroactivity was not even challenged.
The biggest question that was raised in these hearings was why the Colorado legislators had not addressed the sentencing law that governed these juvenile cases. The responsibility of the Supreme Court is to research and rule on the constitutionality of the laws that are in place. They cannot decide the appropriate length of a sentence, that is the responsibility of the public and the lawmakers that represent them.
This brings me to the final point. In the Supreme Court hearings, in newspaper articles, in recent case rulings, families of the victims have voiced their advocacy for greatly reduced sentences and opportunities for rehabilitation and freedom. The public at large has spoken out against mandatory sentences and harsh juvenile sentencing practices. The only ones that do not seem to be in agreement with the victims, the advocates, the public and the justices are the lawmakers themselves. We must remember that theirs is a political office with different motivation. How unfortunate for justice that those who introduce and vote on laws are not motivated to do right for rights sake....for the sake of justice, compassion and the health of the communities they live in.
Do they have the courage to do the right thing? That remains to be seen.
Here are links to articles covering the Supreme Court Rulings and also a recent case that brought freedom to a young man sentenced to life.
Will juvenile lifers get a reprieve? From Westword
Colorado Supreme Court Hears Arguments For Juvenile Sentences From The Denver Post
Man convicted as juvenile in Emily Johnson murder released from prison From The Denver Post
Tomorrow three important juvenile justice cases will be heard in the Colorado Supreme Court. It has taken this long for these first cases, which challenge juvenile life without parole sentences based on the national Graham and Miller rulings, to make their way through the appellate process. Amazing and frustrating.
We are hopeful that these hearings will result in favorable rulings that will set the tone for future appeals but even more, will cause the government of Colorado to change the laws that allow a juvenile to receive these sentences in the first place. So we hold our breath......and wait.
The highest court of this nation ruled that life without parole sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional FOUR years ago for those who did not kill anyone and TWO years ago for those who committed murder yet Colorado has chosen not to address this issue. While Colorado changed the sentence that could be applied (future cases) to these crimes (40 years to life,) the mandatory sentencing structure is still viewed as unconstitutional according the the nation's high court ruling because it does not allow the sentencing court to evaluate and sentence individuals based on age, mental capacity, circumstance or other mitigating factors. Colorado continues to keep felony murder laws on the books, a law that can require a sentencing judge to impose life without parole sentences on a juvenile who was only present or knew of the crime before or after the crime was committed.
Legislation that was to address life without parole for juveniles currently serving these sentences and for those serving functional life sentences will not be introduced this term. Instead the legislators have chosen to wait and see what the Colorado Supreme court has to say on the issue. Those rulings are expected this fall.
Colorado is not the only state in this nation that has not moved to reverse the unconstitutional practice of JLWOP, there are many others. This means that there are states all across this country who are choosing to operate outside of the nation's constitution. They are choosing to break the law and they are not being held accountable while juveniles are serving illegal prison sentences in adult prisons.
There are those trailblazers that have moved to change their sentencing structure and give those who are currently serving these unconstitutional sentences a chance at parole. Washington state, West Virginia, California, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Illinois and Texas have all determined that life without parole sentences are not only illegal but that these rulings apply retroactively and have given guidelines for the parole review and release of juveniles serving life sentences. Colorado has chosen not to be among them.
In addition the UN Council released a scathing report on the human rights abuses that currently happen in the United States with the life sentences imposed on a child topping the list as well as the mass incarceration practices of this nation.
This time of year, around the world, there will be religious celebrations of redemption, of freedom from slavery and oppression and the possibility of being given the chance to start again in a new land, start again with a clean slate. These tenets of faith, whether Christian or Jewish, were meant for everyone. So we must ask ourselves when it became acceptable to throw away a life? God Cries When We Sentence Youth To Die In Prison.
As the United States begins grappling with the ugly truth of juvenile offenders who have been serving time in adult prisons, there are some stories that are blatant in-your-face examples of what realities are ahead.
Ian Manuel was sentenced to Life Without The Possibility of Parole for a crime committed at the age of 13. At 14 he entered an adult prison facility and within a year he was in solitary confinement where he has been living for the last two decades.
He has been held in solitary confinement since he was 14 years old! What were we thinking! Twenty years in solitary confinement for a kid!?! Read the story here
Yesterday we posted an article concerning the need for movement towards changing criminal justice policies for juveniles. There were many who commented on the NYT article that supported the need for changes in charging and sentencing juveniles that would be more age appropriate and would focus on rehabilitation, reform and the future release of these errant juveniles.
Many would say that the reform of juvenile criminal justice practices would be against the wishes of victims advocates and that the families of victims should be the greatest concern. First, we must remember that the reason for court systems and judges is to insure that every accused person is treated fairly and remove vengeance from the hand of the wronged party. This is for two reasons. The first is to protect the person who has been wronged from committing a crime themselves out of pain and anger. The second is to insure that the best interest of the community is served, the errant individual is caused to repay for the harm done.
In my years as a juvenile justice advocate I have come in contact with very angry victims advocates, however, they are the minority. Most would prefer to be able to grieve their loss and learn how to move on with their lives, putting the pieces back together. It is generally not the victim that desires to be drawn back into court for every appeal, sentence modification or parole hearing, it is the district attorney's that use the suffering of victims to sway the opinions of the courts. I have wittnessed it time and again.
Only in recent years, as victims have felt compelled and protected have they begun to speak about the road to forgiveness. It is a road. All of us who have lost a significant relationship, gone through the death of a family member, lost a job, a child or a home know that grief is a process, a process that begins with anger and disbelief. The stories of the women and families who have forgiven others for taking the life of a child or a son or daughter are amazing people. There are many stories that have ended in unlikely frienships. To get a glimpse of this please read Unlikely Advocates For Teen Killers.
It has been over 3 years since the Supreme Court of the United States has decided that sentences of life without the possibility of parole, for crimes other than murder, are cruel and unusual punishment. It has been almost two years since the same ruling was applied to those juveniles who had been convicted of murder. Since that time few states have reformed their sentencing policies or addressed those who have been sentenced under those unconstitutional sentencing policies.
It seems that these landmark decisions have only laid the groundwork for arguments on the state level concerning retroactivity, what constitutes a cruel sentence, what is a reasonable sentence for juvenile offenders and how/what juvenile justice practices need to change.
A recent New York Times article lays out all the discussion very well and covers the arguments from every angle. (you can read here) Juveniles Facing Lifelong Terms. The discussion between legislators, DA's and defence attorney's continues with the same rhetoric that was prominent before the rulings. District attorney's vow that they stand for justice and that the juvenile offenders serving these long and cruel sentences are deserving and will never be anything more than a criminal. Legislators are fearful of making any change because of the fate of their political careers. Defence attorney's continue to push cases through the appellate court system setting legal precedence for change and then find that the battle continues. It seems, however, that the American public has begun to change their views, at least as you read through the first dozen or so comments.
However, we can argue all day long, the facts remain and cannot be denied. Juvenile offenders are not accountable for their actions in the same way that adults are held responsible. Why? The facts speak for themselves. We, as a society, do not hold them capable of making decisions that affect their lives and their futures. We know that they have psychological differences and can be rehabilitated. We know, by virtue of our highest court and by virtue of our own wisdom, that life sentences and de-facto life sentences are cruel. We know that the last 30 years of juvenile justice policies and practices have been an open wound on the arm of our national human rights. WE KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPREME COURT MEANT AND THAT THESE RULINGS APPLY RETROACTIVELY.
So why is it taking so long for states to make changes? Politics. It is not the concern for human rights, it is not acting justly, it is not for the betterment of our communities or our country....it is politics.
The only way that these changes will come is if we, the people of this nation, stand up and say that we want to be known for something other than cruelty, vengeance and over-zealous punishment. We need to take a look at the facts, the truth, we have the largest prison population per capita of any other developed nation and we treat our juveniles with the harshest of consequences. That is called brutality.....not justice.
Until a few years ago many states in this nation had laws in place that allowed juvenile offender cases to be transferred to adult court without judicial review. In many states it was possible to transfer a juvenile case to adult court simply based on the decision of the prosecuting attorney. There was no judicial review of the case, the circumstances or the likelihood of conviction. Do not pass go, do not collect 100.00 but go directly to an adult jail and await criminal prosecution.
There have been many flaws with this system. First and foremost there was no consideration given to the age or culpability of the young offender. Secondly, most juveniles and their parents have never been involved with the criminal justice system and therefore, in the early stages of the juveniles arrest, were unprepared to give proper guidance and protection to the young offender. Thirdly, the adult criminal justice system requires that a juvenile offender be held in county jails while they await trial. These county jails are not designed to accommodate young offenders, keeping them safe from harm, continuing their education and providing them with the support systems for their health and protection.
Thanks to the hard work of organizations like the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition laws that allow for the transfer of juveniles into adult prisons have been challenged and amended. In addition the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition is working diligently to change laws to allow for legal representation of juveniles at the very beginning of an investigation to ensure that the juvenile and his/her parents are informed and aware of the criminal justice process and the youthful offender is protected.
National organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative, Campaign For Youth Justice and others, continue to inform the public on the cost and impact of the laws that have thrown away kids in the adult prison system.
Thank you for your tireless efforts....may we see the day when we once again value the life of a kid and the opportunity we have to transform that life to something positive and productive.
Here is an excerpt from a recent editorial and the link to read the entire article:
The Washington Post Opinions
"Yet, the report notes, citing figures that are a few years old, there are some “100,000 youth who are placed in adult jails and prisons each year.” When minors are thrown into adult jails and prisons, often simply to await trial, they don’t get the structure and educational opportunities necessary for growth or rehabilitation. They are also extremely vulnerable to harm. “More than any other group of incarcerated persons,” a federal panel reported in 2009, “youth incarcerated with adults are probably at the highest risk for sexual abuse.”
The season is coming when advocates and legislators will begin battling and debating about sentencing reform, retroactive sentencing changes and reducing incarceration rates in America. It is a long suffering battle. One that has HUMAN consequences. While men and woman are confined in holding pens, bound in chains, held in dark seclusion, being fed scraps that should be for dogs.....advocates and legislators debate their future. Their lives are so removed from that which they debate, they go home to families, having freedom to move about, having a hope and a plan for their future and free to embrace and challenge the world with their ambition.
Those held in prisons hold none of that hope, even when the chains are loosed, even when the prison doors are opened and they pass to the other side of the razor wire, they are still prisoners. Their past mistakes are the one chain that is never removed from their ankle, the weight they carry with them forever. We don't want them to forget, we can't let them forget that they failed once. We don't want them to forget that they wronged the world that they are trying to be a part of, leaving them forever ostracized.
Yet there is hope, one small ray at a time pushing through the cracks of cement walls. In Iowa this past week the Supreme Court of that state ruled that juvenile life without parole was unconstitutional and that the mandatory sentence of 60 years imposed on JLWOP offenders was unconstitutional as well because it was equivalent to life. When the US Supreme Court rulings came down stating that JLWOP for juvenile who HAD and HAD NOT committed murder were illegal, Iowa's governor quickly responded by passing a law converting all JLWOP sentences to mandatory sentences of 60 years. A travesty and one that has been thankfully overturned. This is a landmark decision and one that will be a standard by which other states will measure their move toward juvenile justice and sentencing reform. Desmoines Register
But it is slow, painful work. Work that seems unending yet we press on. There are many new advocacy organizations being formed and from the most unlikely places like Greece. The world is watching America and they are measuring us by the same rod that we have measured them and guess what? We aren't faring so well. We have been found merciless, draconian and vengeful. To treat children and youth the way we do shows a lack of moral character. Still the clock ticks on as we debate and the children get older and the youth age and hope fades. How long will you defend your condemning ways America and proclaim yourself morally righteous? Fight for the redemption of youth......not their condemnation.
NO MORE ADULT SENTENCES FOR YOUTH!!!!
A slide show of the last 12 years....while Jonny and I and his sister wait.....surely someday....someday they will be free.
Follow this link to Jonny's Etsy Art Shop